Hurricane Maria

Expert Voices

Climate change is exacerbating insurance protection gaps

Power line poles and lines downed by the passing of Hurricane Maria lie on a sidewalk in San Juan, Puerto Rico on November 7, 2017.
Downed power lines and poles after Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on November 7, 2017. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Of the $337 billion in insured losses from disaster events in 2017, $330 billion was caused by natural catastrophes, marking a nearly 90% increase from the previous 10-year average. If 2017 was an annus horribilis for the world and the risk-finance industry, which covered $144 billion of these losses, 2018 is on track to be even worse, since this is the year insurers will directly incur these costs on their balance sheets.

The big picture: Research shows that the world’s cities can expect on average $320 billion in lost economic productivity each year because of climate-related risks — climate change, floods, droughts, wild fires and heat-island effect, among others. Meanwhile, because more than 60% of these direct and indirect costs are not typically covered by insurance, insurers and public finance are in retreat as suppliers of last resort. For example, 60% of FEMA claims in Puerto Rico have been denied. Even against predictable threats like floods, earthquakes and wildfires, the protection gap is massive.

Florida suit seeks bilingual ballots for Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria

A voter arrives at an Osceola County polling station in Kissimee, Florida
A voter arrives at an Osceola County polling station in Kissimee, Florida. Photo: Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images

Civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit against Florida election officials on Thursday, demanding Spanish-language voting materials and translators be available for voters of Latino descent in 32 counties for this year’s midterm elections.

The details: The nonpartisan groups say they have been working with officials in the counties to provide language services to Puerto Ricans — tens of thousands of whom have moved to the state since Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. territory. They expressed concern that many of the U.S. citizens with limited English proficiency are being disenfranchised. There are more than 1 million Puerto Ricans living in the state, per the Pew Research Center.